Interview with James D. Sanderson

Word Vagabond is pleased to present an interview with James D. Sanderson, the author of Sacred Are the Brave, a collection of stories about the power of nonviolent action.

What kind of research did you do into the conflicts you used in your stories?

Having followed the way of nonviolence myself now for over twenty years, I have become more and more aware of the powerful stories of nonviolence that emerged from the revolutions in various parts of the world.  By the time I came to write Sacred Are the Brave I already had many of these basic stories in my head.  The research was more to confirm locations and the on-the-ground situations at the time the revolutions occurred.  The rest I was able to draw from my own first-hand experience of the power of nonviolence.

What changes has the practice of nonviolence made in your life?

I would have to say that the changes that have been made in my life have been extraordinary.  When I was young my brothers and I were taught to solve problems among ourselves and with others by using our fists.  I spent six years in the U.S. Army learning all about the use of violence as a way of winning out over others.  It was not until many years later that I learned the power of nonviolence.  Since then I have tried to use it exclusively in every situation and relationship I have.

Do you ever find the principle of nonviolence difficult to follow?

I am human.  Often my first reaction in any situation is one of anger but I have learned how to control and direct my anger against what is wrong rather than against the people who are acting in wrong or harmful ways.  Do I not act in wrong and sometimes harmful ways myself?  Of course I do.  So why should I ‘punish’ others for making the same mistakes I make?  So yes, it is sometimes the most difficult thing not to fall back into old patterns of behavior.  Once, a short time after my wife and I had taken an oath to live nonviolently we were walking along a bike path when a man physically pushed into us with his bike and uttered something unkind.  That was my first test of my nonviolence stance and I very nearly failed it.  I wanted to wrap a spoke around his neck.  But… I managed that hurdle and it has become easier all the time to make the choice for nonviolence.

Do you think there are any circumstances where nonviolence is not a viable option?

I think many people have the wrong notion about nonviolence because of how they understand the way of violence.  Violence is always an either/or action.  Either I am being violent toward another or I am not.  Nonviolence is a way that never quits working.  The struggle can be engaged long before the other even knows there is a struggle.  It can continue right on into potentially violent situations and even into open conflict.  For me it is a lifestyle choice that I always employ in every situation and relationship whether violence is present or not.  Of course people always point out situations like WWII when they are making objections to nonviolence.  The truth is, nonviolence is a way of fighting.  It only uses other weapons.  So, if these techniques had been chosen long before the rise of the Nazis, who knows what the outcome might have been?  I myself will never choose a violent solution to any problem or confrontation.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I hope readers will take away from Sacred Are the Brave a deep sense that there is another way of conducting ourselves and our own (and our nation’s) affairs in the world.  I hope readers will come to understand that there is another way to power in conflict situations and I hope they will look further into this way of nonviolence for themselves.

What are you working on next?

I am currently finishing a nonfiction book, American Masters, which is a sweeping narrative of the history of U.S. literature from colonial days up through our most recent Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.  I have always loved great literature but I found that the teaching of it tends to leave us with the impression that it was all neatly divided up into eras or time periods or styles of work when in fact all of the authors knew each other or had read each others’ works.  All who read and write are connected up by the works of others.  When I read Ben Franklin today, or Poe, or Cather, I am connecting up to the past in a very real way.  In the same way I hope my work will be an avenue into the future for those who will read my work later.

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